CRAIG CONLEY (Prof. Oddfellow) is recognized by Encarta as “America’s most creative and diligent scholar of letters, words and punctuation.” He has been called a “language fanatic” by Page Six gossip columnist Cindy Adams, a “cult hero” by Publisher’s Weekly, and “a true Renaissance man of the modern era, diving headfirst into comprehensive, open-minded study of realms obscured or merely obscure” by Clint Marsh. An eccentric scholar, Conley’s ideas are often decades ahead of their time. He invented the concept of the “virtual pet” in 1980, fifteen years before the debut of the popular “Tamagotchi” in Japan. His virtual pet, actually a rare flower, still thrives and has reached an incomprehensible size. Conley’s website is OneLetterWords.com.
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The Right Word

Yesterday — September 17, 2018 (permalink)

We don't know that this makes any sort of sense ... but we were thinking about the expression concerning the rarity of hen's teeth, and this re-ordering of syllables popped into our head: "It's like pulling teeth / like teething pullets."

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September 10, 2018 (permalink)


Gordon, of Bizarre Chicago fame, revealed that he read our Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words from cover to cover!
I'm not generally the kind of writer who reads dictionaries cover to cover. But I couldn't put this one down. This dictionary reminds you that not only is language a living, changing, entity -- it's also creative and powerful and personal. Just a few pages of this book will encourage you to lighten up and bravely approach your own prose.
Thank you, Gordon — your review made our day!
Collecting as it does hundreds and hundreds of all-vowel and all-consonant words from literature, Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a word gamer's secret weapon.  Pioneering lexicographer Noah Webster published his first Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806.  He spent decade after decade expanding his dictionary to make it more comprehensive.  Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a testament to the great wordsmith’s dedication.
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"The lady who wouldn't say 'oh!'"  From The Judge, 1921.
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September 9, 2018 (permalink)

Spirit writing that manifested under an inverted tumbler, wishing that your husband had been here.  From 'Twixt Two Worlds by John Stephen Farmer, 1886.
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September 3, 2018 (permalink)


Professor and novelist John Pistelli, author of Portraits and Ashes, honored and delighted us with this insightful review of Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words:
Is a dictionary a guidebook or a rulebook? Does it tell you where you can go or what you should do? In this fascinating compendium of improbable words comprised either entirely of consonants or entirely of vowels, Craig Conley takes guidebook lexicography (or descriptivism) to an extreme that is comic and informative in succession. "Comic" because it is at first amusing to read a dictionary with entries like "oooooo ooooo" ("a wail of wanton depravity") or "whrr" ("an emphatic spoken by a rat"). Yet it soon becomes clear that Conley is after more than jokes: like the OED, his Dictionary of Improbable Words generously quotes published instances of usage, which leads the book to read like a tribute to literary creativity in domains from video games and comics to classical and experimental fiction to straightforward ornithology—any type of writing whose authors were not satisfied with the words in the standard dictionaries and had to devise their own representations of how the world sounds ("trrt-trrt," "mm," "brrrm," etc.). As such, Conley's dictionary may be used as a rulebook for writers in search of elegant and inventive onomatopoeia for purposes ranging from the whimsical to the scientific. Conley also, by the way, reveals that the world contains more rivers, streams, and towns with all-vowel names than you might expect, and in that way his intriguing lexicon approaches the status of a literal guidebook!
The new Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words collects hundreds and hundreds of all-vowel and all-consonant words from literature.  It's a word gamer's secret weapon.  Pioneering lexicographer Noah Webster (October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843) published his first Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806.  He spent decade after decade expanding his dictionary to make it more comprehensive.  Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a testament to the great wordsmith’s dedication.
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September 2, 2018 (permalink)

From Life magazine, via The Judge, 1909.
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August 29, 2018 (permalink)

A snore, done in by a slipper thrown at a nose, turns into a ghost and cries, "Ce-ce-guggle-glug!"  From Sayings and Doings in America by Costard Sly, 1834.
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August 26, 2018 (permalink)

From Plays for Poem-Mimes by Alfred Kreymborg, 1918.
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August 18, 2018 (permalink)

It's not as simple as X marking a spot on the map.  "There were people from North X, South X, East X, and West X, from X Upper Corner, X Lower Corner, and X Four Corners, and everybody had brought his uncle and cousins."  From St. Nicholas, 1879.
For many surprising meanings of the letter X, see One-Letter Words: A Dictionary.
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August 4, 2018 (permalink)

We're honored to have served as editor of the new Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words, collecting hundreds and hundreds of all-vowel and all-consonant words from literature.  It's a word gamer's secret weapon.  Pioneering lexicographer Noah Webster (October 16, 1758 – May 28, 1843) published his first Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806.  He spent decade after decade expanding his dictionary to make it more comprehensive.  Webster's Dictionary of Improbable Words is a testament to the great wordsmith’s dedication.

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August 1, 2018 (permalink)

I tried to say something intelligent and witty, but it came out more like: "Asterfobulongues?"
He looked confused and leaned forward slightly.
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
"Nothing."
Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
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July 29, 2018 (permalink)

In this pairing of quotations, we learn that every act of reading is either aporetic or a palimpsest (or both?).
Every act of reading is an act of forgetting: the experience of reading is a palimpsest, in which each text partially covers those that came before.  Those books that allow us to forget the most are accorded the authority of the classic.
—James A. Second, Victorian Sensation
Every act of reading is when memory and forgetting collide: every act of reading is aporetic, as one has to both remember and forget at the same time.  Each time reading occurs, one is not just reading the text for the first time, but also reading for the first time.
—Jeremy Fernando, Reading Blindly
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July 26, 2018 (permalink)

"Twigmuntus, cowbelliantus, perchnosius.  Can you give me an answer to that?" the lad asked.  From Fairy Tales from the Swedish of G. Djurklo, 1901.
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July 23, 2018 (permalink)

Here are some spirit squiggles and a message in Hebrew, from A Discussion of the Facts and Philosophy of Ancient and Modern Spiritualism by Samuel Byron Brittan and B. W. Richmond, 1853.
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July 6, 2018 (permalink)

From "If Summer Comes " by G. F. MacMullen, in The Magazine of Fun, 1922.
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July 5, 2018 (permalink)

From Celtic Fairy Tales, selected by Joseph Jacobs and illustrated by John D. Batten, 1892.
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June 8, 2018 (permalink)

There's a Japanese word for this: nekojita, which means "cat tongued" (said of one who can't tolerate hot food).  From Le Journal Amusant, 1899.
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"When knights were bold."  From Harper's Weekly, 1916.
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June 4, 2018 (permalink)

"Missing word contest."  From Judge's Library, 1894.
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May 26, 2018 (permalink)

A deliberately unfinished sentence (or, rather, a sentence finished with dashes).  From In the World of Signs, Essays in Honour of Professor Jerzy Pelc, 1998.
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